We provide updates from the FIA and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) on the latest regarding fire safety personnel and ‘critical worker’ status.
The UK once again entered a national lockdown on Tuesday 5th January 2021 in an effort to combat the growing threat faced to health services from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Fire safety professionals continue to be regarded as key workers, however, and this status remains unchanged, according to industry associations.
UK Government guidance states that “people who cannot work from home – including, but not limited to, people who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing that require in-person attendance… should continue to travel to their workplace”.
In April 2020, the fire safety sector was given greater clarification on the role of personnel during the coronavirus crisis in the UK. In a letter sent from James Brokenshire MP, Minister for State for Security, on the 14th April, directly to the FIA, the Government’s support for the fire safety sector was repeated, and this status remains unchanged, assures the FIA.
The full letter can be found and downloaded on the FIA’s website, here.
Within the letter, Mr Brokenshire stated: “The Government is grateful for the sector’s continuing efforts at this challenging time… Such employees engaged in this critical task will need to continue to perform their work.” It is also made clear that the industry continues to consider “carefully” which roles are vital to services, and “what possible steps can be taken to facilitate staff working from home”.
For those who cannot, and are vital to “provide essential safety to people”, the guidance continues by detailing that they should only travel when it is safe to do so and themselves or others in their household are not symptomatic. Advice for workers needing to send their children to schools is also outlined in the letter.
Ian Moore, CEO of the FIA and Derek Gotts, Chair of the FIA, have said: “We would like to thank our colleagues at the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Home Office for their support in getting this important and clear message from the Minister.”
Before this update was released, the NFCC also appeared to have reported that fire safety personnel do come under the ‘critical worker’ banner, indicating that professionals in the sector will be able to continue working and carrying out vital safety checks and maintenance during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is advised that all visits should be taken on a case-by-case basis , and visits to properties should include a pre-screening call to assess the potential of whether the inhabitants are showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Initial clarification was outlined on Monday 23rd March, when James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, stated:“Security & fire safety personnel can play a vital role at this time of national challenge. People working in these sectors who are essential to national infrastructure are ‘key workers’ for the purposes of the Government’s guidance on COVID-19.” However, across the industry, there still appeared to be some doubt for those attending routine fire safety checks, and other services.
In addition, on Monday 30th March, Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, received a letter of “confirmation of the status of a key worker as defined under HM Government guidelines and the confirmation of the right to travel to and deliver and/or work upon products and systems to support UK Fire & Rescue Service resilience”.
The letter included this statement: “NFCC also believes that people working on vital fire safety measures such as the installation and maintenance of sprinklers, fire alarms, waking watch and other measures also constitute key workers… We have already discussed many of these matters with Home Office and MHCLG.”
The NFCC has put together a dedicated page on its response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Within its guidance on home visits, it states: “We will adopt a risk-based approach to Home Safety Checks/Safe and Well Visits.” It also highlights that if anyone within the property is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or is currently under self-isolation, “additional control measures will be required” to complete fire risk assessments, including maintaining a two metre distance and ensuring the assessor has PPE approved by Public Health England.
For all visits, the NFCC is advising that individuals should take a “balanced approach to fire safety on a case-by-case basis”, while pre-visit screening calls to assess whether there is a risk of infection in the property should be carried out as a matter of course.
Links to the full guides are below:
In the first lockdown, back in March 2020, there was much frustration from the sector on the lack of clarification being given to fire safety professionals.
The FIA continually sought further clarification from the Government during the first lockdown, particularly on the issue with regards to construction sites. Ian Moore, for instance, commented in late March: “We continue to push for more information and will not get drawn into interpreting the guidelines as we only want to issue facts (not what we believe they mean) and we wish it was more useful to you.
“You may have seen the news stories on construction sites which clearly is a very complex issue, which accounts for the mixed messages coming from Government in recent days (on one hand we have Nicola Sturgeon calling for sites to close and then Michael Gove arguing that they should remain open).
“As there is no firm, clear guidance and advice, some construction companies have decided they cannot wait any longer and made the decision to close for the foreseeable future (examples being Taylor Wimpey, Galliard, Travis Perkins); the frustration is clearly there in a number of sectors. As one source elegantly puts it “It would be incredibly dangerous for all construction sites to close, but it is also incredibly dangerous for all construction sites to remain open. It is not an issue with a binary solution.”
The construction industry believed the list of critical activity regarding the fire safety sector at the time included:
- Fire safety inspections
- The requirement for maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment to meet Fire Safety legislation – even in occupied buildings
- The ongoing need for fire risk assessments, for legislative purposes and to meet new circumstances
- remedial work required to remove issues such as unsafe cladding
BAFE also worked to ensure the fire safety industry was aware of the most recent developments, hosting a dedicated area for collated coronavirus updates.
Stephen Adams, Chief Executive at BAFE, commented: “We understand this is an extremely challenging time for all of the fire safety industry. Therefore, we wish to provide easy access to the latest information and guidance available and the BAFE team continue their endeavour to deliver this. We are in regular contact with Graham Watts OBE, the FIA and the Fire Sector Federation amongst many other contacts to determine clarity for crucial fire safety work. This was outlined in the Construction Industry Council’s list originally published 24th March.”